Thursday, January 9, 2020

Sweet Message, Sour Service

1st Thessalonians 1:7-9 7 As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 For the Lord’s message rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place that your faith in God has gone out. Therefore, we don’t need to say anything, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God

Several years ago while Sarah and I were on vacation with another couple we decided to check out a restaurant that had a reputation for having one of the best chefs on the east coast. We had to wait over an hour on a weeknight to be seated, the staff was rude, the dining room was crowded with tables so close together that you elbowed your neighbor with every bite.

The food was as delicious as promised, obviously prepared by an expert in the kitchen but I hardly remember it. What I do remember was the bad experience I had with the people between me and the food. I left there not singing the praises of the chef but complaining about the actions of the staff.

The message of the Lord is good, it is sweet, it is the finest that there is prepared by the greatest that there is, but the actions of those who deliver it, the actions of the church who is tasked with carrying it, has an impact on how it is received and how it is remembered. Our message is true but our actions speak to the truth of our message in our lives. For better or worse, our reputation will have an impact for generations to come.

The church in Thessaloniki was one that was delivering the message of God with actions that reflected God.  This was a city at the crossroads where people of all kinds visited, worked and passed through.  This was a church that had an opportunity to share the message of hope with their words and show it with their actions and because of that people believed and further spread the message.

Paul received a good report on the message and activities of the Thessalonians.  What report would be written about us? Are there choices in our lives that cause people to overlook the truth we proclaim?  Are there actions in our churches, perhaps unintentional, that sour the sweetness of our message? 

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.
Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Monday, November 25, 2019

Taking Blessings For Granted

Psalm 103:1-21 My soul, praise Yahweh, and all that is within me, praise His holy name. 2 My soul, praise the Lord, and do not forget all His benefits.

How blessed do you think you are?

We thank God for the big things but yet don’t thank Him for the small things that add up to those big things! In fact, most Blessings are taken for granted. There is an old saying that the grass is always greener on the other side. I prefer another version, the grass is always greener over the septic tank! It reminds me that what may look good and inviting on the outside may hide something rotten on the inside.

Especially nowadays. We see people post their perfect family pictures on Instagram, tell their perfect life stories on Facebook and we envy them. We covet what they appear to have, and in doing so we forget that they are posting merely a single snapshot of one moment of their life - a life just as chaotic and busy as yours is.

We spend our time and energy chasing fool's gold and miss the real treasure God has placed before us.

The psalmist here is stopping and being very intentional. He is saying to his soul, don’t chase after the falsehoods, remember what God has done. Don’t let a single part of my life seek anything apart from God and His glory.

What price would you put on your blessings that we often take for granted? How much money would you take for these blessings, knowing you’d never have them again? How much money would it take for you to never again have enough to eat, or a place to sleep, or for your health? For how much money would you give up your church, your friends or your family? Think about it.

How many people in this country are facing illness or death?  How many in this country are facing starvation or - something I never thought I would have to type - facing trafficking?  What about outside of America?  If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, without fear of facing battle, imprisonment or torture, if you woke up knowing you would have a decent meal then you are better off than the majority of the world.

The fact is, if you live in the USA, no matter your current financial position, you are wealthier than 90% of the world at least.

What if you had to put a price tag on your other blessings?

I’ve read that the human body, with 2019 market prices on all our minerals and compounds, is worth about $4.50. (1) If you took this same body and sold it off for parts, how much would you be worth? How much are you willing to pay to repair it? How much are you are willing to pay, in the time of a tragedy to restore something you are currently blessed with? The average cost of a kidney transplant is fifty thousand dollars and a heart transplant is a quarter of a million dollars.

Think about that the next time you order those bacon burgers and a large shake from Krystals!

With the amount of time we take to be thankful for these things, one would think they are small blessings but they are not. They are truly large blessings being taken for granted everyday. I must make a choice to stop and be thankful for them. I must praise God with all that is within me because all that is good within me is a gift from Him.

This Thanksgiving, do not forget all His benefits!

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

1. How Much Are The Elements in your Body Worth?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Help My Unbelief...

Mark 9:22b-24 “...But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Then Jesus said to him, “‘If You can’? Everything is possible to the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”

As I write this short devotional I am also preparing for Easter Sunday, the wonderful time we set aside to celebrate and reflect on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As Christians, we are honestly called to remember this event every day, after all it is the basis of our faith, the power and hope of our renewed life.  But on Easter we set aside more time, celebrate a little louder, and make it a bit more of an emphasis.

Honestly that is how we often live our faith.  When we are met with challenges and special reminders we display our faith for all to see, but what do we do on the quiet days, when the silent struggles happen behind closed doors?  What do we do when we realize that we are being led by our doubt more than our faith?

In this passage from the Gospel of Mark a desperate Father has brought his son to the disciples to be
healed spiritually and physically, but they were not able to help him.  In desperation when he sees Jesus the man says "If you can do anything..."

If you can?  Have you ever had those moments with God?  I have.  Those times where I realize that everything has been crumbling around me while I have been telling God I can handle this. Those times where  God is saying "Let me help" and I halfheartedly reply, If you can....

These are the times when my faith has become rote religion.  It's not that I'm not praying it is that my prayers are hollow.  It isn't that I'm not reading the Bible it is that my eyes scan over the words without letting them penetrate my heart.  This is when I doubt if God can, If God cares, sometimes if even God is real.  How ironic is it that in these moments where I feel and know God is calling me closer to Him I doubt if He is even real! 

After being challenged by Jesus the man utters one of the most honest statements a human can speak: “I do believe! Help my unbelief.” It is that grasp to a wisp of faith, that first tentative step towards God and not away from Him that leads us back to a growing, stronger faith.  It is then that we realize that we can not have faith without God's help to have faith.  We turn towards Him and He helps us believe and trust and follow.

In this encounter from Mark's Gospel the man's small faith was proven true when Jesus healed the boy.  So many times in my life God has proven Himself true when I turn to him with my little faith, no matter how often I have stumbled through moments of doubt and despair.

Resurrection Sunday is the ultimate proof of who Jesus is and what He can do.  It is a moment not for us to put on a show or act like our faith is never without doubts.  Maybe it has been a while since you turned toward Him, believe me He is still calling out to you. This is a time to come honestly before our living Savior and say “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Generous Wisdom

James 1:5-6 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 

The Old Testament tells us that when Solomon became king of Israel, he asked God not for wealth or power but for the wisdom to rule his people well. God answered his prayer with all he wanted and then some. Now we know that Solomon was far from perfect, he even made some dumb decisions later in life when he got away from God and His wisdom, but he is still remembered as among the wisest people ever.

It’s easy for us to look at Solomon and think this wisdom was a one time only deal, only for the new king and not for anyone else. However, if we look at James 1:5, we see something else entirely.

God not only wants all of us to have wisdom; He wants to be generous with His gift of wisdom. It is as if we have received this huge box from God and on the front, it says generous wisdom. We want to get into the box and see all that our Father has given us but we can’t figure out how to move the lid. We fail to notice the sign on the side that says “Ask to Open”. James tells us here that if we lack wisdom all we have to do is ask and that generous box will be open to us.

However, don't think this wisdom is like a magic lamp with a Genie inside, make a wish and be set
for life. As we see from the life of Solomon, God’s wisdom will only be available to us if we stay close to God and follow Him. It is a box that we open again and again by staying with God always. God’s wisdom for us is not the same as clairvoyance or massive knowledge. It is simply learning to see His will and His movements in the midst of the uncertainty of this world - and being smart enough to follow Him.

James tells us in verse six that we have to ask in faith without wavering. God is willing to give us wisdom, but we can't be wavering in faith not just during the asking but throughout. You can’t be thinking on Monday, “God give me wisdom to do your will” then on Tuesday, “God, never mind. I don’t trust you!”

If you don't believe in the wisdom of God you are not going to find it to be very wise. In fact, you will consider it to be foolishness. We see this throughout the Bible, from the rich young ruler walking away from what Jesus told him, to Paul speaking to the crowd in Athens. We want God’s wisdom but if it doesn’t line up with our preconceived knowledge then we simply don't accept it. That is why our minds must be made up before we ask. That is why we must have already made our choice. If we want God to be generous with His wisdom then we must be willing to choose God over the world.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Covenant Love

Ephesians 5:28-30 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body.

Throughout the Bible we read of God’s covenant love for us. This is how He relates to us - through covenants. Here, Paul is comparing the marriage between a husband and wife to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church.  Specifically to husbands, He says that we are to love our wives with a sacrificial love, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for the church.  This echoes a theme throughout scriptures of how God loves us, a covenant love.  In other scripture passages, such as Malachi, marriage is also referred to as a covenant. If you look at the whole of scripture you begin to see that love is not just a feeling, or an obsession, or even a contract.  Love, especially between a man and a wife, is a covenant.

What do I mean when I say that? Well when you go back to the original language of the New Testament, ancient Greek, you see two terms used to describe an agreement. Suntheke is a contract. This is where each person gives something and each person receives something. If person A doesn’t live up to his end of the deal then person B can leave the agreement. However, the Bible almost exclusively uses the word diatheke, or covenant, which is an agreement where someone gives something to another person and expects nothing in return.

Now that doesn’t mean covenants are always unconditional. Remember God told Israel, if you keep my commands you will have this. However, the key difference is that those commands were given for their good. It is not that God needed them to keep His commands or even expected them to. He did not go into the covenant in order to get something out of it, He went into the covenant in order to give into it.

When we view marriage through the lens of the Gospel we will begin to correctly see it as a covenant love.  It is a love we pour into.  It is not a love that ignores fault or tolerates evil. It is a love that forgives, confronts with humility, and perseveres.  Husbands love your wives just as Christ loves His church.  That is not a light command.  That is a powerful directive. Husbands love your wives so that your marriage is a direct witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

God's covenant love for us is unfailing and eternal.  It is not blind, it is honest, it is patient.  Is that how you see your love for your spouse?  Are you building a covenant with them that will last or simply writing a contract to be torn up when it has outlived it's usefulness.

Are you building a relationship with your loved one based on God's love for you?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Be Careful What You Let In

Romans 6:12-14 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. 13 And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. 14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
One of our small group lessons had a great illustration on the growth of sin. Have you ever heard of Kudzu? Have you ever tried to cut and clear land covered by Kudzu and keep it from coming back? It is not easy, is it?  Kudzu is known as the vine that ate the south, it is a nuisance, but it didn’t start out that way.

In the 1930s, the US government brought this vine in from Asia and paid farmers to plant kudzu to protect against soil erosion. But what started as a good thing grew out of control. The warm summers and mild winters caused it to flourish until by 2010, it had taken over seven million acres across the Southeast.  Likewise there are so many things that seem harmless, fun, or even helpful that do slow unseen damage to our lives. Before we know it, we have surrendered control to them and we start fighting for them against God in our life. (1)

Your life is a weapon of righteousness. By that I mean the way you live, the way you talk, the way you act is a weapon that is meant to show God’s grace, love and honor. It is meant to cut through the lies of this world with love and humility so that others see the mercy and grace of God. That is the last thing the devil wants the world to see. The devil would love to disarm any part of your testimony, to get a toehold in one part of your life so that he can try to tear down the rest of it.

Be careful what you let in.

In Romans 6, Paul shows us that sin is an invader and our mortal bodies are the battleground on which it is fighting.  We have a choice to make.  Do we let our Creator, the Rightful King who loves us and died for us rein in our lives or do we let this invader, sin, reign instead?  Paul helps us see that sin is not just an isolated thing we do, it is an active, growing power. 

You know I’ve never seen Kudzu grow. I have seen where it has grown and overtaken, but I’ve never watched the vines spread. It just seems like it is this size one day, manageable, but I wake up a few days later and it had grown to something so big I might as well not even try to fight it. Sin is the same way. It may look still and unmoving but it is not. It is growing and devouring.

The goal of sin is to wreck your life by attempting to dethrone God in your life.  It then can turn you into a weapon against those you love.  Sin must be in control and it must destroy.  Our job is to not let sin rule even one part of our life, to not let him even get a toehold. If sin does enter in we must be honest enough to go before God and ask Him to clear it out - we can not do it on our own.   We must strive to live a life that is used as a weapon of good - loving, helping others, and not a life under control of the one who only wants to destroy and kill.

Living under grace is pure freedom but it is not freedom from responsibilities. We must not only consider how our actions, addictions, and choices affect us, but how they affect others. Are your actions glorifying Christ or are they pointing your friends and family to seek answers in the world instead of in Christ?

What are you doing with this new life in Christ this morning? Who will be controlling you today?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

1. Bible Studies For Life

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Out Of The Boat, Into The Storm

Matthew 14: 28-31  28 “Lord, if it's You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.” 29 “Come!” He said. And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, a he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Why was Peter able to write such stirring and encouraging words later in his life when facing trials and persecution? Because his faith had already been tested and prepared long before.

We've all heard the encounter where Jesus walked on water, may have even seen illustrations of it, in fact we've heard it so much we often overlook some of the details.  This was no calm stroll on still water near the shore.  This was Jesus strolling out into a storm tossed, wind blown sea.  This was a boat full of disciples who had been rowing against the storm for hours, being blown off course and exhausted from the exertion.  They were tired, they were frightened, they were being forced to go the wrong way by forces larger than them.

Then comes Jesus and at first they are even more afraid to see Him!  But then good old Peter calls out and asks Jesus to command him to get out of the boat and step into the storm.

I've seen many illustrations of this incident where Peter is depicted as timidly hanging on to the boat and barely putting a toe in the water. I don't think that rings true. Look at the biblical description of Peter and you see that he was anything but timid. He was bold and brash. This was the same man who famously boasted that he would never leave Christ, never deny Him even if everyone else did and even if it meant his own death! Of course we know how that worked out.

Remember it is Peter who initiated this encounter by asking the Lord to command Him to come out on the water. I picture Peter confidently getting out of the boat and striding on the waves for a step or two... until he realizes how big the storm is. How high the waves are and how strong the winds are.
In my mind how it plays out is that Peter sees Jesus unflappable in the storm and thinks I can do that, as long as I am following Jesus the wind and waves won't touch me and he steps on out.  But then he gets out there and even though he is walking on water, even though he is not sinking and is safely doing the impossible, he still feels the wind and the waves. He is still getting wet and feels the pressure from the wind, the water crashing against his legs and then he gets scarred.

This isn't what he was expecting! Now we finally get our first cry out to God in this story “Lord, save me!” and it is not an expression of faith in God it as an expression of a lack of faith in God. He did not trust Jesus to bring Him safely to Him. That is why Jesus responded: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” We sometimes think that following Jesus through the storm means we will never get wet, but more often than not it simply means we will make it through to the other side. That is what happens to Peter here. He was perfectly safe as long he stayed focus on Jesus but the moment he pulled his eyes off of Jesus he began to sink. 

Before we are too tough on our friend Peter remember this: at least he stepped out of the boat! There were eleven other men in the boat who were too frightened to even do that!  Peter put that little faith he had into action and even though he struggled, even though he failed this time, his faith was built stronger. He would have more stumbles, take a few more falls but each time his faith grew a little more so that when the real trials and storms came, when God placed him as a leader of the church during some of it's darkest days, he and his faith were ready. His eyes would be focused squarely on Jesus and he would lead others through the storm and to Christ.

We are all frightened by the storms that swirl around us, that push us off course, but you can not allow yourself to be frozen by your fear.  You will never be strong enough to face the storms of life unless you are willing to take your faith and step out of the boat, into the storm, and towards Jesus.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.